Global Health

Each year for the past six years, Bill and Melinda Gates have written a letter about how their foundation is trying to make the world a better place, how they're trying to improve health and education and end poverty. Their 2015 letter was published Wednesday on the foundation's blog. (Note: The Gates Foundation is a supporter of NPR.)

Cynthia Goldsmith / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation / via Flickr

Even as momentum builds for an Ebola vaccine, researchers working to contain another virus say they’ve gotten their first big break in years. An older HIV vaccine candidate is showing new promise, and Seattle scientists will be leading a new trial of it early next year.

Jerome Delay / AP Photo

As the Ebola outbreak first emerged in West Africa, some global health experts downplayed it. The virus has flared up here and there since it was discovered in the 1970s, and rarely has its death toll exceeded a few dozen or at most a few hundred.

“I actually was among those who didn’t think it would be that big a deal, and like the previous ones, it would be contained and would burn itself out very quickly,” said Tom Paulson, who has been covering global health for nearly 20 years. “I was dead wrong.”

Paulson, the founder and editor of Humanosphere, sat down with KPLU to talk about why he’s changed his mind and come to see Ebola in Africa as a major menace.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle has agreed to consider accepting Americans infected with Ebola who have been evacuated from Africa. It’s just the fifth hospital in the United States to do so.

UW Medicine, which operates Harborview, said the decision would be based on whether the hospital has capacity at the time. Dr. Timothy Dellit said the hospital’s normal infection controls and a heightened awareness of patients’ travel history will help minimize any risk to health workers or the public.

AP Photo/NIAID

A Seattle scientist is helping piece together the history of the HIV pandemic, and the new findings on when and where the pandemic began are helping explain how infectious diseases go global.

NASA

The planet could be much more crowded by the end of the century than previously thought, according to a new report by University of Washington researchers.

That contradicts a general consensus that world population growth is likely to stabilize before long. The population has been expected to rise from the current seven billion or so to about nine billion, before leveling off and possibly declining.

But new projections, based on new statistical models, suggest the numbers will not tail off after all. Instead, statistician and sociologist Adrian Raftery said we could hit 11 billion and counting by century’s end.

Abbas Dulleh
AP Photo

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says it will spend $50 million to support emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, in addition to the $10 million the foundation has already committed.

In an announcement Wednesday, the Seattle-based foundation said the money will go to the United Nations and international organizations involved in fighting transmission of the virus.

The head of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Michael Murphy, says the agency is making progress in getting veterans in to see a primary care doctor, but he says there’s still a lot more work to do to improve care for veterans in this region. 

Chugrad McAndrews of Seattle / "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press.

Seattle author David George Gordon would be more than happy to share his recipe for his three bee salad or cricket nymph risotto. Try the deep-fried tarantula, the bloomin’ onion of arachnids.

Gordon is known as “the bug chef,” and has written one of the more comprehensive cookbooks showcasing bugs and their kin. He is also a true believer in insects as a food source for an ever-hungrier planet, as laid out in a lengthy U.N. report last year.

Courtesy of Bob Wood.

Editor's Note: “Senior Thesis” is a special week-long series that brings together venerable veterans in various fields with university students hoping to forge a career in the same field.

Bob Wood and Carolyn Wortham sat opposite each other in the KPLU studio, separated by a generation during which a whole lot had happened.

Between the time that Dr. Wood took up arms against the AIDS epidemic and when Wortham took on the same fight, the illness has gone from mysterious killer to manageable condition. The battlefield had moved, to some extent, from urban gay neighborhoods to the developing world.

BBC

It’s a safe bet.  Sending cardboard boxes to poor countries will be the next big global child health initiative.

The use of cardboard boxes as child beds in Finland has persisted in popularity for nearly 75 years thanks to this government providing families with these boxed-up maternity packages. The parents are given the option to take 140 euros in cash or a box filled with baby needs. The package includes goodies such outdoor gear for the cold Finnish winters, bedding and diapers. 95% of families choose the box. Then they use it as a crib.

Some critics say that ending polio has become Bill Gates' "white whale."

Why not just settle for the huge drop in polio cases that we've seen over the past decade and then spend money on other things that kill so many more kids, like diarrhea and malnutrition?

"Polio is special," Gates tells NPR's Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. "Once you get it done, you save $2 billion a year that will be applied to those other activities. There's no better deal economically to getting to zero."

Delaney Ruston spent a lot of her early days as a physician working in clinics for the poor and disenfranchised, like Berkeley Free Clinic and, later, Seattle’s Pike Market Medial Clinic with a few of area’s leading and long-time health activists Les Pittle and Joe Martin.

“Early on, I kept wondering why we, the medical community, usually just communicated by giving talks and writing reports, said Delaney. Why, she wondered, did the medical community not make better use of video, especially as a form of physician-doctor communication, since it is so emotionally compelling, personal and we’re such visual animals?

Mike Urban / Humansophere

Malaria remains one of the world’s biggest killers and also a massive economic drag on poor countries, poor families.

One of our best weapons against this scourge is a drug known as artemisinin, which is harvested from the plant sweet wormwood and, as a crop, is about as predictable as corn or hog futures.

bnilsen / Flickr

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation thinks safe sex isn’t as much fun as it should be.

At least, that seems to be the gist of one request for a grant application from the world’s largest philanthropy as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations program. One of the goals for this round is to develop a better condom.

“It is a bit unusual,” said Stephen Ward, the program officer with the Gates Foundation administering the project.

Sometimes seeing data presented in the right way can change your entire view of the world. 

Bill Gates says that’s what happened to him 20 years ago, with global health:

“I was completely stunned by the burden of disease in poor countries, to see that diarrhea was killing literally millions of children, and that some of those causes of diarrhea, like rotavirus, were preventable," he said. "There was a vaccine available in rich countries, but ironically, not in poor countries."

Seattle Children's

The rocket attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens gets plenty of attention in Congress. But, not many have heard about a global health project Stevens left behind.

When Stevens was murdered last Sept. 11th in Benghazi, Libya, he had a meeting scheduled with a group of doctors the very next day, Sept. 12th. They're trying to setup Libya’s first modern 911 system.

Now, Stevens' sister, in Seattle, is bringing a higher profile to that unfinished project – helping a group from Boston that’s working with the Libyan doctors.

AP Photo

What happens when you have a thousand humanitarian groups, from the Red Cross and World Vision to small local groups, all converge on the poorest country in the Western hemisphere?

This weekend marks three years since a massive earthquake killed at least 200,000 people and left about a million homeless in Haiti. The international response was one of the largest outpourings of money and assistance ever. Humanitarian groups, including some from the northwest, are still trying to help people recover.

Whether the international effort to save lives and improve Haiti has been a success is hotly debated.

Oliver Erdmann / Flickr

In 2012, it’s more likely to be obesity than infectious disease, even in many so-called "poor" countries.

People around the world are living longer – but they're also more likely to get sick from diseases that are common in America. These trends are highlighted in an ambitious Seattle-based project to track health and sickness in countries around the world.

David Oliver Relin, a journalist who had reported from around the world before gaining fame — and getting mired in controversy — as co-author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, took his own life when he died on Nov. 15 in Oregon, The New York Times reports.

It got that word from Relin's family.

Melinda Gates is running full tilt against the Catholic Church on family planning and now the philanthropy’s blog is pumping out this thinly disguised attack on, well, rich people. Something seems to be changing over there. The Gates Foundation is getting political. As the authors — Joe Brewer, Martin Kirk and Adriana Valdez Young — say:

“The depiction of poverty as a background reality with no human cause conceals the active role of decision makers to create and perpetuate it.”

Read the full story on Humanosphere.

Emily Lynch / MSF

The latest violence in central Africa is resonating with a group of doctors in the Puget Sound area. They’re medical relief workers who take time off from local clinics and hospitals to work in battle zones. Some are sharing their stories tonight, Nov. 28th, at a film screening in Seattle sponsored by Doctors Without Borders (details below). 

For example, Dr. Terra Bowles is just back from her third stint in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The latest data on HIV rates in American teenagers and young adults offer a sobering message.

While the number of new infections in the U.S. is relatively stable — at about 50,000 people each year — HIV is on the rise in young people under 25.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

Today’s Seattle subversives are pretty low-key, superficially boring even — smiling at you in their wrinkled clothing, offering tea and cookies, mumbling quietly about equity and justice and gently nudging you toward whatever might be their most ambitious goal.

Take the iLEAP program, for example.

Read the story on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

“Good science is based on uncertainty, on having an open mind and dealing with the unknown,” said Dr. Jim Kublin, executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) based at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

His frankness got a laugh at the network’s meeting in Seattle this week. And what makes it easier to laugh about not knowing where you’re going, he added, is that researchers today have a lot more tantalizing clues.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Three of the area’s leading organizations at the forefront of this movement – Hub Seattle, Social Venture Partners and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute – celebrate the grand opening of their new conjoined and co-working space known as the Center for Impact and Innovation.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

"We invent things and have fun doing it. We explore ideas. Most of them won’t work but they don’t all need to work. We have a number of projects out there that I would say stand a fair chance of improving the lives of many people," Nathan Myhrvold.

The former chief technologist for Microsoftis a close associate of Bill Gates and now CEO of a business, Intellectual Ventures, which some say holds more patents (about 40,000) than any other company in the United States.

I wanted to talk to Myhrvold about his recent ventures into philanthropy, into humanitarianism, which his firm has dubbed its “Global Good” project.

Check out Humanosphere for the rest of the story.

What was supposed to be a 60-day moratorium on certain experiments involving lab-altered bird flu has now lasted more than eight months. And there's no clear end in sight.

Researchers still disagree on how to best manage the risks posed by mutant forms of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu. The altered viruses are contagious between ferrets, which are the lab stand-in for humans. The fear is that these germs could potentially cause a deadly flu pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab.

The words “global health” conjure up for most folks images of health workers vaccinating children in Africa, major initiatives aimed at getting anti-HIV drugs or anti-malaria bed nets out to people in poor communities across the globe or any number of other noble efforts aimed at fighting diseases of poverty.

Most don’t think of global health as a means to also advance corporate or political agendas. But Anne-Emanuelle Birn does …

Read the interview on Humanosphere.

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